Batman on Film: Part 8 – Batman Begins (2005)

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BATMAN BEGINS
Christopher Nolan
2005 • 140 Minutes • 2.35:1 • United States
Color • English • Warner Bros.

Cast: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Liam Neeson, Katie Holmes, Gary Oldman, Cillian Murphy, Tom Wilkinson, Rutger Hauer, Ken Watanabe, Morgan Freeman
Writers: Christopher Nolan, David S. Goyer (Screenplay); David S. Goyer (Story); Based on characters created by Bob Kane
Producers: Charles Roven, Emma Thomas, Larry J. Franco
Cinematography: Wally Pfister

Awards & Honors

Academy Awards
Nominated: Best Achievement in Cinematography – Wally Pfister

Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films
Winner: Best Actor – Christian Bale
Winner: Best Fantasy Film
Winner: Best Writing – Christopher Nolan, David S. Goyer
Nominated: Best Director – Christopher Nolan
Nominated: Best Supporting Actor – Liam Neeson
Nominated: Best Supporting Actress – Katie Holmes
Nominated: Best Costumes
Nominated: Best Music – James Newton Howard, Hans Zimmer
Nominated: Best Special Effects

The Essential Films
100 Greatest Movie Villains: R’as al Ghul
100 Greatest Movie Heroes: Batman
Top 25 Superhero Movies

Why do we fall? So we can learn to pick ourselves up.

Batman Begins is a cinematic reboot of the troubled Warner Bros. Batman franchise. The original franchise (discounting the 1940s serials and the 1960s film based on the campy television show) blasted into theaters in 1989 to critical and financial success. In 1992, the Dark Knight returned to theaters with Batman Returns. Returns succeeded critically and financially as well, though it was not quite as financially successful as the original 1989 film, taking in “only” $162 million compared to 1989’s $251 million haul. Executives felt the film went to dark and hired Joel Schumacher to replace Tim Burton as director for 1995’s Batman Forever. Forever’s lighter tone did indeed conquer the box office again with $184 million. Executives loved Schumacher’s lighter take on Bruce Wayne and company, and immediately hired him for Batman & Robin. While B&R did have a strong opening weekend, once word of its overly campy direction came out to audiences, sales dropped dramatically. Batman & Robin remains to this day the lowest grossing and biggest critical failure in the live action Batman entries. The movie was so abysmally bad that Warner Bros. scrapped plans for an eventual 5th movie, Batman Triumphant. And so, with the exception of some straight-to-video animated projects, one of the world’s most recognizable superheroes sat on the cinematic shelf collecting dust for 8 years. A variety of different projects were thrown around, but it wasn’t until 2003 when Memento writer/director Christopher Nolan was hired to takeover the franchise.

Batman Begins completely reboots the previously existing Batman universe. It takes us to Bruce Wayne’s beginnings as a young man, dealing with the rage and desire for revenge for the death of his parents. It follows his exploits across the world as he trains his body and mind for vengeance. One fateful day he meets a mysterious stranger who introduces him to The League of Shadows, a shadowy organization that metes out justice. Bruce takes what he learns back to Gotham City and wages his one-man war on crime as The Batman. While investigating the villainous Scarecrow and fighting Gotham’s underbelly of criminals, he discovers a larger plot… one involving The League of Shadows and his former mentor, R’as al Ghul. The film was a critical and financial success and it kicked off the first part in what was to become the epic Dark Knight Trilogy, culminating in 2012’s billion-dollar hit The Dark Knight Rises.

The original Batman franchise had its share of talented A-list actors: Michael Keaton, Kim Basinger, Jack Nicholson, Danny Devito, Michelle Pfeiffer, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Tommy Lee Jones, George Clooney and Jim Carrey to name a few. Nolan’s trilogy is not to be outdone. Since grabbing Hollywood’s attention with Memento, Nolan’s worked with some top notch talent including Al Pacino, Robin Williams, Leonardo DiCaprio, Hugh Jackman and even David Bowie. Batman Begins, and the rest of the films in the trilogy, are magnificently cast from the title character to the minor supporting roles.

Christian Bale takes the mantle of the Bat this time around, and to date is the actor who has most often donned the cape and cowl on the movie screen. Billy Crudup and Jake Gyllenhal, as well as future Batman villains Cillian Murphy and Heath Ledger were considered for the role before Bale was ultimately cast. Bale succeeds the most as Bruce Wayne, probably more so than any of his predecessors. Bruce Wayne is a complicated character, as when he is alone and around his closest allies, like his ever-faithful Alfred, he is somber and brooding, but when making public appearances he puts on the persona of “Bruce Wayne: jet-setting, irresponsible playboy billionaire.” Bale is the first actor to take on the role who understood that delicate balance. His Batman was also very good as a menacing vigilante. (The “voice” however has been a subject of much criticism.)

Michael Caine’s Alfred is an interesting change of pace from Michael Gough’s portrayal in the Burton-verse. Gough’s Alfred felt ancient and tired, where as Caine’s is much livelier and witty. The character is written more as a substitute father figure for Master Bruce. Alfred is concerned about Bruce’s welfare and sanity, yet he understands his desire for justice. He is torn between his duty to the Wayne family and his authentic love for the boy he helped raise. Caine’s performance as Alfred in these films is often criminally overlooked, but he is truly the heart of the trilogy. His final spoken lines in the series, towards the end of The Dark Knight Rises, are probably one of the most impactful and gut-wrenching scenes I’ve ever seen in a comic book film.

Liam Neeson enters the film early on as Henri Ducard, a mysterious member of the League of Shadows, who helps induct Bruce into a world of ninjas and vigilantes. Neeson has a big reveal towards the end of the film that, if you haven’t seen the film, I will not spoil here. Needless to say, Liam Neeson shines as the would-be ninja mentor who teaches Batman all his tricks of the trade. A constant theme in the film is Bruce’s desire to find a father figure. Alfred fills that role somewhat, but he sees in Ducard someone who shares his pain and can mentor him.

Commissioner Gordon, thus far portrayed on-screen as the bumbling Pat Hingle, gets a gritty reboot in the guise of Gary Oldman, in this film only a detective and one of the few uncorrupted cops on the Gotham City police force. In Begins, Gordon is given extra relevance as a beat cop who helped comfort a young Bruce Wayne the night his parents were killed. When Batman returns to Gotham City, he seeks out Gordon as an honest cop and forms a bond with him that will last the entire trilogy. Oldman as he does with every role, whether it’s a good or bad film, absolutely nails the performance. To date this man has never won an Academy Award. This is a crime.

The film’s villain, or so the audience is at first led to believe, is Dr. Jonathan Crane, also known as The Scarecrow, a twisted psychologist that performs experiments on his subjects through the use of a weaponized nerve gas that causes the victim to suffer extremely frightening hallucinations. Cillian Murphy is cast as the villain and while younger than his comic book counterpart, he brings the creepy, calculating villainy of Crane to life for the first time on screen.

Morgan Freeman, who like Gary Oldman also nails every role he’s cast in, is cast as Lucius Fox, a Research & Development genius who has been demoted within the Wayne Industries hierarchy. Lucius is ultimately responsible for arming Bruce with the tools and weaponry he goes on to use as Batman. What’s refreshing about Fox is that he isn’t an idiot, he immediately questions why a billionaire would want some of this gear and puts two-and-two together very quickly. Luckily, he’s on the Dark Knight’s side.

And these are just the main roles. Tom Wilkinson, Rutger Hauer, Ken Watanabe and Linus Roache, among others, are among some of the fine supporting cast in this film.

Batman Begins attempted, and succeeded, at something that previous Batman films had not: it grounded Batman in reality. Yes, the idea of a man dressing up in a bat costume and fighting crime is ridiculous and subject for fantasy. However, Nolan and his team did not make a fantasy film. They made a crime film with some fantasy elements. Batman’s gadgets have scientific explanation behind them. His villains early on are mob bosses and psychopaths with nerve gas, not someone who can control plants or has a freeze ray. His suit even seems more functional. Instead of a rubber body suit with a leather cape, we get body armor with a lightweight cape that allows him to glide. Even the Batmobile goes from fancy cool-looking, non-practical car to, essentially, a tank.

We can’t close this entry without speaking about the cinematography. Wally Pfister was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Cinematography for this film and it shows. Supposedly, Nolan screened Blade Runner for Pfister to convey the look he was going for. I’d say he nailed it. The film looks dark and gritty, yet realistic and futuristic at the same time. Nolan shot in Chicago for most of the Gotham scenes and added in a post-produced “Narrows” to show the slums of the city. While Burton’s 1989 film made Gotham City look like a fantasy, Nolan and his team created a Gotham City that looked credible, real and authentic. A city that could conceivably have a man dressed as a bat fighting crime.

Batman Begins is a landmark in comic book filmmaking. It took the hero seriously, grounded him in reality, gave not only him but his supporting players and his villains a motivation and character arcs. And of course, it jump started one of the most successful film franchises in history with it’s two sequels each earning over $1 billion. Batman Begins is an essential film for starting a franchise, revitalizing a genre and rebooting a character that most had written off as a campy goofball.

It has become more than just a movie. It devoted itself to an ideal and became something else entirely.

Are you ready to begin?

MORE BATMAN

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Forced Perspective Episode 19: Batman – Origins, Camp & Rebirth
FORCED PERSPECTIVE, Ep.20 – BATMAN, Part 2: The Animated Universe (w/Special Guests MR. EDDIE, HAMZA, and HEADCASE)
FORCED PERSPECTIVE, Ep.21 – BATMAN, Part 3: The Downfall (w/Special Guests BIG D, MR. EDDIE, HAMZA, & HEADCASE)
Batman on Film Part 1 – Batman: The Movie (1966)
FORCED PERSPECTIVE, Ep.22 – BATMAN, Part 4.1: “The Nolan Renaissance” (w/Special Guests BIG D, MR. EDDIE, HAMZA, & HEADCASE)
Batman on Film Part 2 – Batman (1989)
Batman on Film Part 3 – Batman Returns (1992)
Forced Perspective Episode #23 – Batman Part 4.2: “The Nolan Renaissance”
Batman on Film Part 4: Batman – Mask of the Phantasm (1993)
Forced Perspective Ep. 24 – Batman, Part 4.3: “The Nolan Renaissance”
Batman on Film Part 5: Batman Forever (1995)
Batman on Film Part 6: Batman & Robin (1997)
Batman on Film: Part 7 – Batman: The Animated Movies

Adolfo

Adolfo is a pretentious film douche bag that feels better about wasting four years of film school by posting movie reviews online.

About Adolfo

Adolfo is a pretentious film douche bag that feels better about wasting four years of film school by posting movie reviews online.
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